The Meralco Bolts are going full throttle in practice. “Let’s go! Let’s go,” barks head coach Norman Black as his team runs two-three-man fastbreak drills. The players respond. Some egg their teammates on. Others yell, “Defense!” It’s a frenzy and the Bolts hope this all translates into a better campaign when the Commissioner’s Cup tips off.
On the sidelines doing some stretching is Simon Atkins.
Atkins has been in and out of the Meralco lineup since May 2015, first with a knee injury and then bone spurs. For someone who grew up playing the game and harbored dreams of making it to the PBA, the inaction is both boring and killing him.
“I can’t tell you enough of how much I want to play,” the 5-foot-10 point guard admits. “I haven’t been cleared to play. Maybe in less than three weeks. I’m pain-free now but you have to follow the doctor’s advice. After all, this is a career we are talking about.”
“I said it is boring because you’re inactive. I’m not doing anything but resting and trying to get healthy. It’s killing me because I love the game; I love to play and I want to help my team."
After a celebrated career with the La Salle Green Archers, Atkins found it a little difficult adjusting to the pro game. “You’re going up against the best in the land and you have to bring up the level of your game just to make it. Just when I am finally adjusted these injuries happen.”
He describes his PBA career as “a roller-coaster ride.”
“It's a good thing I have teammates and a coaching staff who believe in me."
Back in college, Atkins played frenetic defense. He wasn’t a scorer like teammates JVee Casio or TY Tang. He could stroke that three, drive in for a lay-up, but he was more known to create for teammates and to play tough defense. With his recent injuries, he is now looking at the game through different eyes.
“Coach Gene (Afable, an assistant coach for the Bolts) told me to watch (San Miguel Beer guard) Chris Ross closely,” shared Atkins. “And I took his advice and what a revelation it was for me.”
Both players, Ross and Atkins, endured similar starts to their careers -- moving teams and having difficulty adjusting to the speed and power of the PBA game. Ross has since turned heads with his masterful play on the defensive end while improving what was an erratic jumper.
“Chris reads situations really well. If I can approximate even 50% of what he does then I will be even more effective,” he notes. “I don’t need to score a lot. We have teammates who can put that ball in the basket — JD (Jaren Dillinger), Gary (David), Ronjay (Buenafe), and Baser (Amer). And then there’s Jimmy Alapag.”
"It is mesmerizing to have teammates who are on Gilas and we have a few — Jimmy, Gary, JD, Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Rey Guevarra at one time. Now Jimmy's work ethic and attitude towards the game is legendary. When you come to practice and you don’t bring it, and you see Jimmy working his butt off that even after practice he’s out on the court taking more shots, nakakahiya. You feel you aren’t pulling your part of the deal. Furthermore, his intensity and passion for the game rubs off on you."
“Now when you see that everyday in practice, it makes me all the more wish I could come back right away so I can contribute.”
For Simon Atkins, three weeks cannot come soon enough.
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